Letter from Japan

Yes, it is me sitting in the below photo looking out at Yakushima landscape but I need to be honest and ensure you that the scene was not as scary as it looks in the photo. I still got a little too scared though. It has been three months since I last sent one of these newsletters right after I got back from USA where I got to visit New Mexico, New Orleans (link to English translation of the magazine article I wrote about the trip) and Chicago. I am this time back from Japan where I spent an amazing five weeks. This was my fourth trip to Japan in the last six years and definitely my best Japan trip so far. I got to meet so many inspiring people (and felt so relieved to see that there are so many people at around my age who quit their regular office work in favor of world travels or living in a foreign country and did not starve to death!). I also got to visit parts of Japan that I have not been to before such as Kumano Kodo and the magical island Yakushima. I shared a lot of photos at my instagram feed during my trip and recently wrote an article for the 25th year special issue of the Turkish geography and travel magazine Atlas (on newsstands today!) focusing on Kumano Kodo (one of the most important pilgrimage routes in Japan) and Koyasan parts of my trip (where I got to stay in a temple and participated in morning prayers).

Kumano Kodo and Koyasan

My first major stop in Japan was Kumano Kodo, the name given to the web of pilgrimage routes located in Kii Peninsula. This was my first experience with the long walks (3 nights, 4 days) and overnight stays in very small villages along the route. I can say that this was a very liberating experience that I am dying to repeat very soon. Since so many kind people helped me out for my article on Kumano Kodo and Koyasan (which is printed and published by Atlas only in Turkish) by feeding me with valuable information, I translated it to English and published the translation on my website. I took the liberty to add few additional sentences in the translated version, which you can check out here – Kumano Kodo. I know that my title of choice sounds quite cheesy but that is really what this walk meant for me. If you ever plan a trip to Kumano Kodo, I highly recommend that you search for Kumano Travel – a group of local volunteers who will help you with every step of the walk and connect you with amazing hiking guides like Kennis Wong and Kim Kuribayashi. At the end of the walk, I stayed in a Buddhist temple in Koyasan where I was allowed to participate in the morning prayers. It was an amazing experience and the monks and students at Joki-in were all very kind to answer my never ending queries not only during my stay but also after the trip through emails.

Yakushima

I also wrote an article Yakushima – an island located in the south of Japan, which is famous with its moss forests and as a place which inspired Miyazaki for Princesse Mononoke. You should also check out this website – Yakushima Life –  a great source of information about this Japanese island, which is included in UNESCO World Heritage List. The owner of the website Jennifer Lue is a very inspiring hiking guide who has been living in Japan for more than 15 years. I think I would just be looking at the trees and say “wow cool, these trees look kind of old” and get back to the mainland Japan without gathering any meaningful information about the island if I did not get to tour around the island and hike with her for two days. By the way, none of these recommendations are sponsored but I really want to give a shout-out to these amazing people since I was very impressed and happy with the company I had. It was not just the amazing scenery and the moments but also the company that I had who made this trip so memorable.

Kyoto and Beyond

In case I have not lost you yet with this long email – I should note that I also got a chance to stay for a while in my favorite Japanese city – Kyoto where my base was my favorite hotel Anteroom for the fourth time. I was in Kyoto right before the famous cherry blossom (sakura) season but got to witness the plum blossom, which looked almost as beautiful to me. I also got to visit Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kagoshima and Osaka this time around. My trips to Nagasaki and Hiroshima were centered around visits to atomic bombs museums and memorials and as one can expect, it was a quite intense experience. I think it is my duty to share this photo (that I took in Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum) with you here without saying anything further.

Nakasendo Trail

Another highlight of my trip was to walk part of the ancient Nakasendo trail located in Gifu prefecture of Japan with my friend Yoko whom I have been friends since age 16. We met in USA 21 years ago when we went to same high school near Chicago as AFS exchange students. She is a very inspiring lady who just returned from Northern Kenya where she did volunteer work for two years.  Nakasendo trail goes through old Japanese post towns and we only covered the most famous part of the trail going from Magome down to Tsumago. It was an easy walk which takes you by some waterfalls as well. I also accidentally happened to be in Kyoto at the same time with two of my childhood friends whom I have last seen maybe five years ago. It was so much fun to hang out in Kyoto together as opposed to Istanbul where we all live.

That’s all from me for now and as I always, I would be grateful if you can drop me a line and tell me about your news. I will next be traveling to Oregon and California in USA where I will be visiting some good friends. Even though it may look like I am constantly traveling, I am still doing some legal work and it is sure a lot more fun now after getting a chance to stay away from it for a while and then being able to focus more on the academic side, which is for many of the lawyers I know still the most rewarding part I think.

All the best,
Burcu